Although Irina Melnic is thousands of miles away from her native land in Calarasi, Moldova, near Romania, she says she feels right at home in Columbia County because of the reception she's been given.
Irina Melnic, an exchange student from Russia attending Greenbrier High School, inspects an egg as part of a 4-H poultry project in the kitchen at Savannah Rapids Pavilion.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"I like going to school, especially seeing my friends and teachers," said Irina, a 17-year-old sophomore at Greenbrier High School. "I like the big shops, big cities and the freedom. There are a lot of different people from different countries and cultures. It's a big part of the U.S."
Through the Future Leaders Exchange Program, Irina is spending a year in Evans as an exchange student from Moldova, an independent state of the former Soviet Union.
Since coming to the United States in August, she said she has settled in nicely with her host family, Carol and Bill Jackson, at their Evans home.
"It's an absolute delight to have Irina," Carol said, mentioning that she and her husband have been hosts to 14 exchange students since the 1980s.
"When we say we've got a real good one, we know what we're talking about."
Just like any normal teenager, Irina said she enjoys spending time with her friends, going to movies, playing on the computer, participating in school clubs and volunteering in 4-H activities.
"Volunteer (work) is a pretty new concept," she said, adding she is also a member of the Beta Club and chorus and hopes to be accepted into the National Honor Society.
"It really develops citizenship and leadership skills. People in Moldova usually don't want to do something unless they get paid for what they do."
With only two months remaining before her departure back home, Irina has already made a lasting impression with her peers and Shirley Williamson.
"I am proud and impressed with the variety of opportunities Irina has taken advantage of since she came to live with her 4-H family here in Columbia County," said Williamson, Columbia County's 4-H extension agent youth coordinator.
Now that Irina has experienced a "whole new world," she said she hopes to return to the United States to pursue a college degree and become a psychologist.
"I love it here," she said. "I can't wait to come back."
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